Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Home Office (RTS 44)



  The Home Office (HO) works closely with the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR), the police and other agencies to pursue the Government's Road Safety Strategy, Tomorrow's Roads—Safer for Everyone, launched in March 2000. The Home Office's particular concern is with the enforcement of road traffic law, including that relating to speeding. This enforcement is an essential part of achieving the casualty reductions set as targets in the Strategy. The duty of enforcement falls on the police, who thus have a central role to play in improving road safety. We want to maximise the contribution road traffic law can make. Road safety has a wider significance, which relates to our concern for citizenship and communities. The speed of traffic, both actual and perceived, can affect the general quality of people's lives in their local communities and its cohesiveness.


  2.  One of the overarching aims and objectives for the police service is to contribute to improving road safety and the reduction of casualties. Road policing is recognised by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) as a discrete business area, with Chief Constable portfolio holders, whose responsibility, in liaison with the HO, is to consider and advise on recommended best practice.

  3.  In 1997, ACPO adopted a national road policing strategy. This aims to "secure an environment where the individual can use the roads with confidence, free from death and injury, damage or fear". In addition, in 1998, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) published a thematic report Road Policing and Traffic.This emphasised the need for greater attention to road safety and road policing and contained detailed recommendations for the police. These included that Chief Officers of Police, when determining the level and structure of resources for local road policing, should take account of the need to achieve a reduction in road casualties and crime, and that prosecution policies should be applied consistently.

  4.  As part of their enforcement work, the majority of police forces now participate in Driver Improvement Schemes. These have been developed over the last ten years and are overseen by a Steering Group which comprises representatives from the HO, DTLR, local authorities, ACPO and the Association of National Driver Improvement Scheme Providers. Where appropriate, the police will, on a non-statutory basis, offer drivers referral to a Driver Improvement Scheme as an alternative to prosecution. Drivers' participation in a scheme is entirely voluntary and they remain free to assert their innocence of a speeding or other road traffic offence in court if they prefer.


  5.  Speed limits are not an end in themselves, nor are they imposed arbitrarily and unnecessarily. They are there to contribute to road safety and traffic management. As such, they are an important aspect of road traffic law. Their enforcement is an operational policing matter for local decision. Within any broad policy laid down for their force, officers retain the discretion when dealing with any individual incident to take account of its particular circumstances.

  6.  ACPO did, however, issue guidelines on speed enforcement in February 2000. They have made these available on their website: These guidelines aim to provide a transparent and consistent approach, while recognising that not all speeding offences are the same. They stress proportionality in applying the law, targeting enforcement action and consistency of approach among police forces. The rationale for the policy is clearly set out to inform the public in what the police realise is a sensitive area of policing.


  7.  In practical terms, the enforcement of speed limits must rely on technical equipment to provide objective evidence of the speed at which a vehicle was travelling and therefore whether the driver might have been committing an offence.

  8.  The Road Traffic Act Offenders Act 1988 provides that evidence from a speed enforcement device shall not be admissible in proceedings unless, first, the device is prescribed by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State prescribes generic classes of speed enforcement device, eg those using radar, those using sensors and those using lasers. Any instrument falling into one of these generic groups must then, for its evidence to be admissible, be of a type approved by the Secretary of State.

  9.  The type of approval process is rigorous, involving both operational trials and strict scientific tests. When a manufacturer puts forward a new device for type approval it is considered carefully by both the Home Office and ACPO's Road Policing Enforcement Technology Committee, chaired by one of the Chief Constable portfolio holders. The whole process, which is kept under constant review, is designed to provide a public assurance of any equipment's accuracy and reliability.

  10.  Advice on speed enforcement equipment submitted for type approval is provided via the Home Office's Police Scientific Development Branch. Its public protection sector has road policing amongst the areas it covers and undertakes continuing research to help improve police efficiency and effectiveness through the technical equipment and operations it investigates.


  11.  Apart from their direct practical value, the cameras also help free up police resources which are then available for other deployments, including other, more proactive, road traffic policing. It is vital, however, that there is an accurate assessment of vehicle speed. In addition to the security offered by the type approval process, all automatic static camera devices also use a secondary check. This enables an officer viewing the offence to make a judgement on the speed independent of the speed measurement from the device. (The device takes two photographs 0.5 seconds apart. The secondary check is performed by checking the distance travelled along white lines painted on the road between the taking of the two photographs and calculating the vehicle's speed from these.)

  12.  Following successful trials, DTLR and the Home Office announced in August 2001 the nationwide roll-out of a speed camera netting off scheme. The Home Office takes part with DTLR and other Government Departments as a member of the DTLR-led Safety Camera Project Board in decisions on applications from areas to join. The scheme allows money raised by speed camera penalties to be used to meet the costs of camera enforcement, provided that the cameras meet requirements as to siting and visibility. These requirements are designed to ensure that the cameras are used solely for the deterrence of speeding at locations with a history of speed-related accidents and that they do result in accident reduction. Precautions are in place to ensure that the money netted-off is not used for purposes other than the funding of camera enforcement.

  13.  The strict new guidelines were announced at the beginning of December. As well as the provisions as to siting and effectiveness, they include rules that camera housings must be yellow, no camera housing should be obscured by bridges, signs, trees or bushes, and that camera warning and speed limit reminder signs must be placed within one kilometre of both fixed and mobile camera sites. The location of cameras will also be advertised locally, so motorists know exactly where they are. All new cameras must meet these criteria, and all existing cameras will be expected to comply by June of 2002. The rules will be binding for every police force in and applying to join the netting-off scheme. National guidelines for other police forces will be revised during 2002 and will closely mirror those used under the netting-off scheme. The aim is to be clear to motorists that the cameras are there solely to act as a deterrent against speeding and running red-lights, with their associated dangers.


  14.  Speeding and other road traffic offences represent a distinct area of criminal law, and we believe that penalties should fit the offence. We are currently reviewing whether the current maximum penalties remain appropriate, and will ensure that any proposed changes to penalties are consistent within the whole sentencing framework. To this end we published in December 2000 a road traffic penalties consultation paper.

  5.  The paper focused on moderate to serious offending, but was comprehensive and detailed, prompting over 1,000 responses. Many of the responses were themselves very detailed, so that consideration of the Government's reply and the formulation of a final set of proposals has necessarily taken some time. We are currently engaged in this process and expect it to be completed in the near future. Any changes to penalties arising as a result of this consultation exercise would be introduced in appropriate legislation at the earliest opportunity.

January 2002

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